THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

13 posts categorized "Social sciences"

27 June 2018

Using wildlife sound recordings in the field

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Coleridge research fellow Dr Alice Rudge writes:

What are the uses of the recordings we make beyond preserving them? How might archiving wildlife recordings open up possibilities for interdisciplinary research, beyond the original purpose of the recording? During my anthropological PhD fieldwork with Batek people in Malaysia, which focused on their uses of music and sound, using wildlife sound recordings in the field created some interesting outcomes.

Batek people are indigenous hunter-gatherers of the lowland rainforests in peninsular Malaysia, numbering around 1,500 people. They speak Batek, an Austroasiatic language of the Northern Aslian family.

DSCF2768
Evening fishing and flower collecting

In a Batek camp, or when out in the forest, birds are a common topic of conversation, and under the dense canopy of the forest, birds are some of the most noticeable creatures, not because they are seen, but because they are heard (see also Lye 2005). All that might be seen is a flash of colour or a shaking leaf, but birds’ calls cut across the background hum of insects and chatter. Perhaps for this reason, birds are a major source of musical inspiration. Birds are cosmologically significant, too, and played an important role in creating the world as it is today, according to Batek origin stories (see also Endicott 1979). They are also used to make predictions - for example if you hear a certain bird you might know that certain fruits are ripe, that elephants are close, or that a friend will arrive home that day. Birds are often named onomatopoeically for their calls - for example the sŋseŋ bird has the call ‘seŋ-seŋ-seŋ-seŋ’.

This evident salience of bird sounds for Batek people meant that I was interested to document Batek names for various birds during my fieldwork - partly so that I could then ask further questions about them! However - when out in the forest, if we heard a bird and someone told me the name of it, it was difficult for me to then know the English name of it based on the sound alone. I therefore got hold of some of recordings of Malaysian birds, and, alongside showing them images from photographic field guides, played them to my Batek friends with the idea that they would be able to tell me the Batek names for the birds, which I could then compare to the English names noted by the original recordist. This proved a fascinating exercise - in particular as often there was not any one simple answer or direct correspondence between the English and Batek names for birds. For example, the aforementioned sŋseŋ was variously identified from the images as the Black-eared Shrike-babbler, Long-tailed Sibia, White-bellied Erponis, Oriental Reed-warbler, Arctic Warbler, Mountain Leaf-warbler, Chestnut-crowned Warbler, Blue-throated Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Flowerpecker, Crimson-breasted Flowerpecker, Orange-bellied Flowerpecker, and the Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker. However, from the recordings it was more definitively identified by different people as the Brown-throated Sunbird.

Furthermore, not only did people help me to document a lot of bird names, but they were also keen to recount stories and other information about the birds. For example, on listening to the Crested Jay, ʔEyJayat identified that it was a lhlah in Batek, but also recounted a funny story about coming across a tourist in the forest: the tourist was reaching up, trying to record the lhlah bird with their microphone - but this took ʔEyJayat, who was walking in the forest, by surprise as he thought the tourist was a ghost. ʔEyKtlət also remembered that the lhlah was the bird we had heard in the forest that morning when we had been fishing. He, his wife, and his son talked about how the lhlah has two sounds - syãl and llɛk. If you hear these sounds it means you won’t find food in the forest that day. If you are tired, and have no food, or only a tiny bit of food - you will hear it. If you get back home and your lean-to is damp - you will hear it. People therefore feel angry when they hear this bird! Through this exercise, Batek friends also taught me that the baləŋ bird indicates that elephants are close, as it makes the sound tuləŋ that imitates the sound of an elephant trumpeting, and that the maliʔ bird calls rain to come (ʔoʔ ʔajak ʔujan). The ləʔ talok bird (a type of Scimitar Babbler) - whose name literally translates as ‘indicates the Dusky Langur’ indicates that Dusky Langur are close!

The recording that people found the most hilarious was of the trut kit, or ‘fart’ bird - whose call sounds a lot like somebody breaking wind. Not only did I learn this funny name for the Mountain Imperial Pigeon - but also everyone fell about laughing about the bird, saying yɛʔ malɛs nir klɨŋ - ‘I really don’t like the sound’, imitating the sound, and then laughing again. In the Batek’s forest, however, laughter can be taboo (lawac), and risks causing a storm - and in the recordings people can be heard warning each other - ‘watch out or we will be lawac from laughing so much’. As well as giving information about birds, the new recordings of people listening to these recordings therefore also document something about Batek humour and taboos more broadly.

The jayit srwal bawac bird - which in English is the Chestnut-capped Laughingthrush - has a name which translates as ‘sewing the trousers of the macaque’. This bird also has other messages - as it is also heard as saying cok buŋah kwaʔ and jŋʔɨl tlok kawah - telling the listener to prepare the kwaʔ flower to be worn in the hair and to jump into the water at kawah - a part of the nearby river. These messages are ‘phonological iconisms’ of the birds call. In other words, the words sound like the sound of the bird. This bird is therefore particularly inspiring to and well loved by the Batek, it is strongly associated with a particular place and with flowers that the Batek love, and its call often therefore prompts exclamations of feelings of longing and nostalgia, which the Batek call haɁip. You can listen to the sound of the bird, followed by ʔEyKtlət repeating its name, in the audio excerpt below:

Jayit srwal bawac

Through recording Batek people listening to the recordings, therefore it has been possible to preserve some of this complex and in-depth knowledge and love of birds that Batek people have, knowledge which is deeply connected to their forest home, and their daily experiences of the birds. The exercise has showed that wildlife recordings can have great use beyond documentation - in this case by providing a resource for eliciting, sharing, and in turn preserving, further unique knowledge, and providing a window onto important ways of thinking about the environment that challenge dominant discourses, and show the ways that human and avian lives can intertwine.

The Alice Rudge Collection is currently being deposited and catalogued with the World and Traditional Music collection as part of Alice's ongoing research with the Batek.

For more information on Batek people, see the following:

Endicott, K.M., 1979. Batek Negrito Religion: The Worldview and Rituals of a Hunting and Gathering People of Peninsular Malaysia, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lye, T.P., 2005 [2004]. Changing Pathways: Forest Degradation and the Batek of Pahang, Malaysia, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: Strategic Information Research Development.

Rudge, A., forthcoming 2018. The sounds of people and birds: music, memory, and longing among the Batek. Hunter Gatherer Research. 

 

21 May 2018

Recording of the week: "We regret to inform you" - bad news from the sound archives

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This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

An Oral History of the Post Office includes memories of telegram delivery boys who delivered telegrams by hand with news of war casualties during the Second World War, and their reflections on what it was like delivering the bad news. Delivery boys were always told what the news was. They were instructed to ask if there was a man in the house first. They also had to wait at the door in case a reply was requested.

Roger Osborn (C1007/16) discusses the wording of war telegrams which would always start with the words “We regret to inform you…” A friend of Roger’s in Tring, Hertfordshire, ignored his instructions when delivering news of the killing of a woman’s husband. He noticed the woman out shopping and gave her the telegram. Her first reaction was to hit him over the head with her loaf of bread.

Des Callaghan (C1007/38) remembers delivering three telegrams in Nottingham to one home: one with the news that the son was missing, the second the incorrect news that he was dead, and the third that he was actually in a prisoner of war camp - and Des got a £1 note in return!

These extracts come from An Oral History of the Post Office, a collection of life story interviews with a sample of Royal Mail and Post Office staff in the UK conducted between 2001 and 2005. Interviewees include, of course, postmasters and postmistresses, postmen and postwomen but also those involved with postal sorting and transportation (by road, air and train); stamp design, printing and marketing (the story of the stamp); legal, purchasing and property departments. The collection also includes interviews with staff who worked in lesser-known departments such as the Post Office Rifles, the Post Office Film Unit and the Lost Letter Centre.

There is an emphasis within the collection on change within living memory from the 1930s to the 1990s: the separation of post from telecommunications, computerisation and automation, new management practices and the diversification of new services offered by Royal Mail and the Post Office.

A CD of extracts from the collection entitled “Speeding the Mail: an oral history of the post from the 1930s to the 1990s” was published by the British Library and the British Postal Museum and Archive in 2005, and over forty extracts are available online at British Library Sounds.

Speeding the Mail CD

Follow @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

07 May 2018

Recording of the week: Doric dialect

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This week's selection comes from Andrew Booth, PhD placement student working on the VoiceBank collection.

An intriguing and unique variety of English spoken in the British Isles is Doric dialect. Doric refers to a Scots dialect spoken in the northeast of Scotland and to the outside ear (mine), it can be a difficult one to master. My favourite Doric contributions to the Library's WordBank are given below. Could you decipher what this speaker means?

Sair forfochen (C1442, uncatalogued)

Sair forfochen [= 'tired and hassled']
Faur div ye come fae [= 'where do you come from']

This speaker from Aberdeen explains question words in the local dialect, which I find equally interesting:

Fit like, Faur, Foo (C1442/6804)

Fit like [= 'how are you']
Faur [= 'where']
Foo [= 'how']

For more information about accents and dialects in the northeast of Scotland, see this article on the British Library website.

Doric Dialect

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

02 April 2018

Recording of the week: anyone for tig/it/tag?

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren (Peter and Iona Opie, 1959) lists numerous regional variants for ‘truce terms’ – the code word used to withdraw briefly from a playground chasing game or to seek immunity from capture – including barley in the West Midlands, skinch in the North East, kings in Yorkshire, cree in South Wales and the West Country and scribs in Hampshire. The Lore of the Playground (Steve Roud, 2010) confirms continued use of many of these terms alongside more mainstream national variants such as time out, paxies and freeze and previously unrecorded local forms such as twixies in Essex, jex in Croydon and bugsies in Devon. 

Fingers

When we invited visitors to the 2012 Evolving English exhibition to submit contributions to the Library's WordBank, children's playground games proved a particularly rich source as can be seen from the contributions here of fainites from London, squadsies from Leicester, skinchies from Skipton and thousies from Bournemouth. It's also worth noting how the contributor from Bournemouth uses both it and tag to refer to a basic chase game as this, too, is known variously across the country as it, he, tig, tag, ticky, dobby, touch, king etc. and that the contributor from Leicester is unsure whether the past participle of tig is regular (i.e. tigged) or strong (i.e. tug).

Fainites (C1442/1873)

Squadsies (C1442/1487)

Skinchies (C1442/993)

Thousies (C1442/351)

You can hear over 100 recordings made by Iona Opie from the 1960s onwards of children demonstrating and discussing playground games across the UK.

Follow @VoicesofEnglish and @soundarchive for all the latest news.

05 March 2018

Recording of the week: being uncouth at drama school

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This week's selection comes from Holly Gilbert, Cataloguer of Digital Multimedia Collections.

Mother and son, Radhika and Omar, talk about Omar’s experience of attending a drama course at LAMDA - The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Omar describes the assumptions that he feels people at LAMDA have made about him as a mixed-race East Londoner and they discuss the experiences of some of his fellow students as well as one of the teachers on his course. They emphasise the importance of learning from people who are different to us and not making judgments based on stereotypes. They also discuss the difference in attitudes towards career choices between Omar, who is a second generation immigrant, and Radhika, who moved to England from Sri Lanka when she was 8 years old.

The Listening Project_Radhika and Omar

Radhika and Omar

This recording is part of The Listening Project, an audio archive of conversations recorded by the BBC and archived at the British Library. The full conversation between Radhika and Omar can be found here.

Follow @CollectingSound and @soundarchive for all the latest news. 

12 February 2018

Recording of the Week: The Listening Project Symphony

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Paul Wilson, Curator Radio Broadcast writes:

This week’s selection celebrates World Radio Day 2018 (13th February) and is an example of the art of radio at its best: blending creativity with actuality to illuminate aspects of our life and times and, in this instance, one of the moral dilemmas of our day. It's an excerpt from the Listening Project Symphony, a beautiful composition by Gary Carpenter for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, first broadcast live from Manchester in December 2012. The piece incorporates extracts from some of the intimate and often surprising conversations which have emerged from The Listening Project, a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library in which family members or friends are invited to share their stories, private thoughts and feelings with an unseen radio audience.  

BBC Philharmonic at Salford Quays  2012
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra at Salford Quays, 2012. Photo courtesy of the BBC

In this extract we briefly hear voices from three separate conversations, each poignant or moving in its own way even in this edited form. The third - part of a conversation between a young British Muslim woman of Indian/Pakistani descent and her India-born mother - will hold a particular resonance for some. The daughter begins by gauging her mother's response to a hypothetical question about marriage: how would you feel if I were to marry a man of a different religion? She then takes the hypothetical situation a step further - how would you feel if my partner were another woman?

The Listening Project Symphony (excerpt) 

The complete Listening Project Symphony can be heard on the BBC iPlayer here and the Listening Project’s BBC homepage is here. The complete collection of unedited Listening Project conversations can be explored at the British Library’s Sounds website.

04 September 2017

Recording of the week: Epic

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This week's selection comes from Rosy Hall, an ESRC-funded PhD student from Oxford University working with the BL's Spoken English collections.

Epic 3. b. colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.). Particularly impressive or remarkable; excellent, outstanding. (www.oed.com)

According to one Urban Dictionary entry, the birth of ‘epic’ as a popular catchphrase has its origins among ‘avid gamers and pretentious English majors’. This fits with the WordBank contribution of one of our speakers (b.1991), who attributes it to ‘video gamer culture’ and his gaming friends.

Um, I think that ‘epic’ is a very interesting word that I constantly hear my friends use, because, it’s interesting because it’s, I feel it comes from like some kind of like video gamer culture, cause my friends are like ((bay kid)) gamers, I mean I’m not so much, but they always use the word ‘epic,’ ‘that was epic’, or like ‘epic fail’ and {cough} I just, where, what does it mean? I guess it’s kind of like…uh like ‘amazing’, like it just sort of emphasizes something. You know what I mean? Yeah. It’s like a lot of emphasis on something it’s epic, it’s not just s- -- you know ordinary, it’s epic. I don’t know, maybe it’s rooted from the actual word epic where you know, like, I don’t know the Odyssey? Who knows? Who knows. But yeah. Bye!

Epic (C1442)

Like so many words whose meanings have evolved over time, epic is a common bugbear among prescriptivists – English language mavens who would rather the word were reserved only for Homer and Virgil. As alluded to by this speaker, epic hasn’t always been a trendy word for something like ‘really good’ or ‘extreme’; traditionally it’s a genre of lengthy heroic poetry. Scholars have pointed out, however, that even this definition is fairly fluid – the meaning of epic has changed over time to cover both oral and written forms, and extends to novels and even movies (Game of Thrones, anyone?). Language change is inevitable, after all; it seems this new epic is just the latest iteration.

Song-of-ice-and-fire-1177616_1920

And we’d better get used to it: unfortunately for the pedants, a high level of objection usually correlates to a high level of usage. Judging from the number of internet rants against it, it’s clear that epic is here to stay!

Continue the conversation with us @VoicesofEnglish

24 April 2017

Recording of the week: when is a word not a word?

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This week's selection comes from Jonnie Robinson, Lead Curator of Spoken English.

The Evolving English: WordBank is extremely positive evidence of the robust nature of our native dialects, as demonstrated by this speaker's use of the verb puggle [= ‘to prod, poke about in e.g. a hole to clear obstruction’]. As a young, female, middle-class speaker she doesn't conform to the usual dialect stereotype and she also comes from the south of England, where the apparent demise of local speech forms is most frequently asserted. Nonetheless she expertly describes and defines a word recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'English regional (chiefly south-east)'. Puggle also features in the 6-volume English Dialect Dictionary, the most comprehensive record of 18th and 19th century English regional vocabulary, where it's attested in Hertfordshire and Essex.

PugglePuggle - as defined in Vol. 4 of the English Dialect Dictionary (1898)

To have a puggle

As a dialectologist I'm also particularly interested by her observation that 'I always thought it was a real word and it turns out it's not'. This, sadly, is frequently the fate of dialect vocabulary, but I hope she and other users of perfectly valid local forms are reassured to know that the validity of puggle is acknowledged by authoritative dictionaries and that it has been around in the Home Counties for at least 150 years and clearly still survives in the 21st century - no doubt alongside other supposedly 'long-lost' southern dialect words.

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